Memorandum submitted by the Mobile Broadband
1. The Mobile Broadband Group ("MBG"whose
members are O2, Orange, T-Mobile, Virgin Mobile, Vodafone and
3) welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Committee's timely
inquiry into harmful content on the Internet and in video games.
2. The MBG notes that the Committee will accept
as submissions responses to the Byron review and we have pleasure
in attaching our response to that review. We also note that the
scope of the Committee's inquiry goes wider and we therefore offer
some additional comments in relation to the regulatory settlement
and the mobile operators' specific role in delivering an appropriate
environment for its customers.
3. The Committee is particularly looking
at the effectiveness of the regulatory regime for dealing with
a range of potentially harmful content on the Internet.
4. To get a clear picture of the answer,
it is necessary to ask not one question but two. First, what are,
in fact, the regulatory arrangements for considering such matters
of public concern? And secondly, how well are the existing arrangements
doing their job?
5. For there to be a successful regulatory
regime, the public has to be satisfied both with the institutional
settlement and have confidence in the way regulation is actually
delivered. As a general rule, there will be greater consensus
over the former than the latter.
6. To expand on this point, the regulatory
settlement for TV broadcast is the dual headed Ofcom & BBC
Trust arrangement. While not everyone agrees with this outcome,
there is very little day to day debate about the institutional
arrangements, even though there is regular and vigorous public
debate about the individual decisions they take.
7. A similar situation persists in advertising,
where there has been a co- and self-regulatory settlement involving
the Office of Fair Trading, Ofcom and the Advertising Standards
Authority. Again, there is no day to day discussion of the institutional
arrangements, even though there is often controversy over the
8. The Press Complaints Commission is a
further example. The newspapers and the regulation of newspapers
have traditionally been much more controversial. Quite frequently,
the PCC and the newspaper editors have been told that they are
"drinking in the last chance saloon" of self-regulation.
But on each occasion, the Government has decided that self-regulation
is better than the alternatives.
9. With respect to the Internet, there is
no equivalent regulatory settlement. There is no widely articulated
view of what arrangements could best meet our needs. There is
no public consensus as to how best to approach the issue. This
is especially problematic when the complexity and ever evolving
nature of online services renders regulation by a single or even
dual bodies next to impossible. It is not therefore surprising
that there is a perception of public worry and it is not surprising
that we are struggling to deal efficiently with the issues being
considered by the Committee.
10. And so the first question the Committee
should consider is how best to arrive at a coherent view of the
institutional arrangements that we have and need.
11. The MBG believes that most of the building
blocks are, in fact, available, viable and functioning well. What
is lacking is an overview of these building blocks that can demonstrate
the majority of causes for concern are currently governed by either
law, formal, co or self-regulation or business rules. Such an
overview would enable the building blocks to be defined and presented
within a coherent framework that everyone understands and believes
in. This will go a considerable way (although not all the way)
to calming a perception among some of the general public that
the Internet is out of control.
12. Excellent work is being done by self-regulatory
groups, Ofcom, The Home Office Task Force for Child Protection
on the Internet, Get Safe On line, the Internet Watch Foundation,
the Cyberbullying Task Force and many others. It is just not being
drawn together in a way that the public understands or gives them
confidence that all reasonable steps are being taken. The MBG's
view is the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory
Reform must have the lead role in defining the overall institutional
framework and explaining it to the public and others.
13. The MBG anticipates that there will
be no neat and simple solution or that there will necessarily
be an outcome that has universal public support, at least in the
early years. (We should not forget widespread uptake of broadband
is very recent).
14. With TV broadcasting, there are few
producers, operating in a definable geographic region. The regulatory
settlement is neat and relatively well understood. Nevertheless,
it is still an enormously complex task, balancing issues of freedom
of speech, economics and standards of taste and decency.
15. With hundreds of millions of producers
and publishers operating trans-nationally and new issues emerging
very suddenly, the regulatory task for the Internet is an order
of magnitude more complex. Moreover the outcome may fall short
of what the public would like when compared to, say, broadcast
regulationbut it may be the best achievable (at least in
the short term). Perhaps we already have the optimum mix of institutional
arrangements; they just need to be better presented and understood.
16. There is no simple answer or one institution
that is capable of dealing with all the issues.
17. The range of topics is too broad and
the issues often go beyond the realm of just communications policy.
Take, for example, "cyber-bullying". Cyber-bullying
is an online manifestation of a real-life problem. It would be
wrong to consider the matters separately and so it is right that
the relevant government department has the lead in addressing
the topic (the DCSF, in this case), rather than the communications
regulator. The same goes for terrorism (Home Office) and violent
crime (also Home Office), consulting all relevant stakeholders.
18. The regulatory framework is a blend
of legislation, co-regulation and self-regulation, with, for practical
reasons of enforcement, a heavy emphasis on the latter.
19. In addition, everyoneincluding
children, parents and teachers will have to be much better educated
in how to use the Internet constructively, safely and responsibly.
This will include making proper use of the tools such as virus
protection, firewalls and parental controls.
20. It is only when we have assessed the
effectiveness of the existing arrangements (and acknowledge that
no activity is free from risk) that we will be able to move beyond
the current approach, which might often be characterised as piecemeal
and even knee-jerk. What is lacking currently is a dispassionate
assessment and the courage to consider that regulation and legislation
are not going to be silver bullets in this instance.
21. The new framework also requires a new
style of leadership. Whereas with national regulation (such as
in broadcast), the Government has enough concentrated power to
set regulation and enforce it, with the Internet, governance and
power structures are so diffuse that leadership has to rely on
persuasion, political currency and shared interests to achieve
22. In the UK we have seen some models of
this happening already. For example, the mobile operators code
of practice for self-regulation of content was a world first in
2004 and formed the basis for similar codes around the world,
including the EU Framework for safer use of mobiles (A framework
that was published by European operators and endorsed by Commissioner
23. In summary, the Committee's inquiry will
have achieved much if it persuades the Government and BERR in
particular to create and describe a coherent regulatory framework
from the institutional building blocks that now exist. It will
then be much easier to identify any gaps (if any) and then address
the specific issues that are currently on the table and the future
issues that will undoubtedly arise.
24. Even though there has been no overall
regulatory framework, the UK's mobile operators have been a pioneering
force in developing appropriate self-regulatory measures for consumer
protection. We have also been active partners in initiatives taken
by Government (such as the Home Secretary's Task Force for Child
Protection on the Internet) and the wider industry (such as the
Internet Watch Foundation). The detail of this activity is set
out more fully in the response to the Byron Review below.
25. To provide a context, the MBG sets out
for the Committee some background and recent history of developments
in the mobile sector.
26. When mobile phones were first introduced
into the UK in 1985, it was expected that a fully mature market
would consist of about 250,000 people, mostly senior business
executives. Today, the UK has over 70 million active subscriptions
(115% of the population), the second highest penetration in the
G7 and Europe (after Italy, with 139%).
The UK is home to one of the most competitive markets in the world
with the four largest operators having fairly comparable market
shares, a fifth with a significant foothold since launch in 2003
and a large MVNO with over 4.5 million subscribers.
27. The mobile industry in the UK has been
an enormous success story and is now a very significant sector.
Operators in the UK directly employ over 37,000 staff.
Turnover for mobile communications services is £13.9 billion
Investment in fixed capital equipment is in the order of £2.3
billion per annum. An analysis conducted in 2004 by CEBR on behalf
of O2 calculated that the mobile industry accounted for 2.3% of
Only the Construction and Hotel/Restaurant sectors are larger
in the UK economy.
28. The UK operations of the five network
operators remit approximately £800 million to the Consolidated
Fund, in terms of corporation tax, employers national insurance
and VAT each year. £55 million is paid to the Treasury in
annual spectrum fees. This is in addition to the £22 billion
paid for 3G spectrum in 2000, which saves the Government around
£900 million per annum in debt interest, making a total direct
contribution to the public purse of £1.75 billion per annum.
29. In addition to the direct contribution,
mobility and other mobile services have contributed considerably
to productivity improvements in other sectors of the economy.
For example, mobility has delivered more efficient use of mobile
work forces and vehicle fleets, faster and more immediate communication
for managers and executives working on time critical projects,
construction, journalism, sales and public safety.
30. The contribution is not just economic.
Mobile operators handle over 15 million 999 calls per annum (40,000
per day), many of which involve life threatening situations. Location
services are used extensively in the utilities, NHS and social
services to keep an eye on carers working alone in high-risk environments.
Text messaging is used by Government; (for example, to contact
tourists after the Asian Tsunami, helping the FCO to cope with
a terrible situation).
31. The early steps in mobile focused on
delivering ubiquitous and reliable communications for voice and
text. Today, the mobile is evolving into an all-in-one device
for communications, transaction processing and entertainment.
32. A very large proportion of mobile devices
sold today have colour screens, Internet browsers, cameras etc.
and their memories and processing power have improved dramatically.
3G networks are fairly widely deployed. Some operators have either
announced plans or have already upgraded their networks with HSPA.
The Mobile Data Association is stating that around 15.5 million
web/wap page impressions are being recorded per month from mobile
devices. PhonepayPlus estimates that mobile subscribers spend
around £800 million per annum on premium rate services.
33. M Metrics has measured some of the value-added
uses that appeal to consumers:
|% of subscribers||
|Browsed for news and information||14.5%
|Used e-mail (personal and/or work)||9.3%
|Downloaded mobile game||4.0%
|Listened to downloaded music||2.0%
Adult content did not show up on the survey as a significant
category. It may be that those surveyed did not admit to consuming
adult content but it is also a reasonably popular category (and
sits behind access controls to prevent access by minors).
34. Hand in hand with the economic success of mobile communications,
the UK's mobile operators have developed appropriate self-regulatory
measures for consumer protection.
The UK mobile operators were the first in the
world to publish a self-regulatory content code for mobile,
which requires customers to prove that they are at least 18 before
getting access to adult commercial content.
The Code was published on 2004 and has been very
successful in meeting its objectives. Code has been used as a
basis for similar codes around the world, including the EU Framework
for safer use of mobiles (A framework that was published by European
operators and endorsed by Commissioner Reding). The details of
the Code and our experience of its effectiveness are set out fully
in the response to the Byron review (as attached).
All mobile operators are engaged members of the
Home Office Task Force for child protection on the Internet and
have actively supported the development of good practice models
(such as the soon to be published guideline on social networking).
Mobile operators (under the auspices of the Mobile
Broadband Group) are represented on the Committee for Advertising
Practice. Advertising on the mobile platform is subject to the
oversight and rulings of the Advertising Standards Authority.
All mobile operators have very constructive working
relationships with all the law enforcement agencies and regulators
such as Ofcom and PhonepayPlus.
Mobile operators are also represented on the DCSF
task Force on Cyberbullying and have contributed actively to the
All mobile operators are members of the Internet
35. The remit of the Internet Watch Foundation covers
child sexual abuse images anywhere in the world and obscene and
racial content hosted in the UK. The reason for the difference
in geographic remit is that the definitions for the latter two
categories are fairly specific to the UK, while the definition
of a child sexual abuse image is almost universal.
36. There are also two very distinct strategies for combating
UK based content and overseas based content.
37. In the UK, under the IWF's code of practice the mobile
operators would respond to a "notice and take-down"
request for any of the "in remit" content. In practice
it is extremely rare for such a notice to be served. Less than
1% of such content is hosted in the UK.
38. "Notice and take down" though is only effective
for UK hosted content. For overseas content, the mobile operators
have agreed to block customer access to sites that the IWF has
listed as containing illegal images of child abuse. It is in offence
in the UK to possess such images and so blocking is used to protect
the casually inquisitive or an accidental encounter with such
material on line rather than to prevent the determined paedophile
from accessing it.
39. The UK model for dealing with child sexual abuse
images has been very successful. There are three main reasons
while the IWF is self-regulatory, it has been
backed by clear law and partnership with law enforcement
parliament and the courts have brought about a
fairly well understood definition of what type of content is illegal
IWF has considerable expertise in assessing the
content in question
The law enforcement agencies in the UK (and generally
overseas as well) are very responsive partners in following up
on leads passed to them by the IWF
40. The mobile operators, in principle, would support
the IWF acting as a consumer hotline and assessment point for
the new category of content "extreme pornography" as
envisaged by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. There
are still discussions to be had about the precise definition and
we understand that the Government is considering representations.
41. Once the UK definition of "extreme pornography"
is in place, the mobile operators will respond to "notice
and take down" requests for UK hosted content.
42. The effectiveness of the IWF model for tackling race
hatred has not been so clear cut. As very little race hate content
is hosted in the UK, this has not presented a problem in practice.
However, the IWF has not received the necessary guidance and training
on how to assess the content nor has any law enforcement agency
been designated to follow up on actionable reports received and
passed on by the IWF.
43. For a self-regulatory agency such as the IWF to be
an effective referral point for the public and issuer of take-down
notices", there needs to be a number of elements in place:
a clear definition of content that is illegal to host, effective
guidance as to how it is applied and a designated law enforcement
agency to pursue actionable reports. These factors, along with
whether it was illegal to possess, would have to be taken into
account when considering how to deal with other categories of
potentially illegal content, such as incitement to terrorism.
44. In our response to the Byron review, the MBG made
the point that consumer education is a key part of making sure
that customers are able to use the new media services responsibly
and safely. The key messages from that response are restated below:
Mobile operators recognise that they do not control
every aspect of a customer's use of the technology and that customer
education is vital.
Successful strategies have to include schools
and parents in teaching children how to use a mobile safely and
Mobile operators are committed to customer education
and media literacy.
A range of web based and printed resources are
available to inform children and parents about how to stay safe
and act responsibly.
Mobile operators have also partnered with expert
organisations such as Childnet International, National Family
and Parenting Institute and NSPCC to develop comprehensive and
accessible educational materials.
45. For a fuller discussion of the child protection measures
taken by the mobile operators, the MBG has pleasure in submitting
in full its evidence to the Byron review.
Ofcom's International Communications Market, 2007 Report Back
Aggregation of staff numbers taken from most recently filed accounts
for the UK operations of the five mobile networks Back
Ofcom: The Communications Market 2007 Back
HSPA-a 3G upgrade- High Speed Packet Access (or a variant HSDPA-High
Speed Downlink Packet Access) Back
M Metrics Int'l consumer survey, Sept 2006 Back
Not printed. Back
Not printed. Back